Kamakani Farms: Salt, Chickens, Tomatoes—and Wind
by Paul Hanley | Community Reporter
“I didn’t want to do conventional farming,” says Cameron Hiro, who operates Kamakani Farms in Hoolehua with his wife Jacqueline and their ohana. A fourth-generation homesteader, Hiro resides on agriculture lands where his mother Janice and her late husband, Cameron’s stepfather Joseph Pele, and other family members once grew vegetables.
Though Cameron didn’t want to farm he stayed in the food industry. After high school, he studied restaurant, culinary and catering management, which led to a 35-year career in cooking, catering, and event management. In 2017, he and his brothers Raymond Hiro and John Pele became owners of Hiro’s Ohana Grill at Hotel Molokai.
Although Cameron focused on the service side of the industry, he started his “unconventional” involvement in the production side in 2004 when he launched a sea-salt dehydration venture on the homestead. He is now operations manager for Hawai’i Kai Corporation, a gourmet salt business.
When Sust’ainable Molokai’s PEEP (Poultry Egg Education Program) began to gain traction, he enrolled in the training for their third group of producers. The program, which aims to increase local egg production, provides producers with everything they need to get started, including building materials for a chicken coop and a guaranteed market for eggs.
Cameron doubled the typical start up to 50 chicks and made a few innovations in his hen house to minimize the workload, like adding bulk feeders and waterers. The hens nest above an inclined mat that allows the eggs to roll into trays outside the coop, for easy collection. An electronic timer opens the door at 4 p.m. so the hens can have free run of the yard for a few hours. After sunset, when the birds have returned to safety of the coop, the door automatically closes.
The Hiros enjoyed raising the chickens so they decided to expand. Cameron came up with his own henhouse design that reduces materials and construction time. Although the number of hens has increased to more than 200, the workload is manageable. Eggs go to the mobile market, friends, and family, and to his restaurant, and the operation turns a small profit.
Although most of the feed is purchased, Hiro has found that fermenting some of the grain to produce probiotics and including some papayas and moringa leaf in the mix help keep the birds healthy.
Success with egg production encouraged Hiro to enroll in Sust’ainable’s Mahiʻai Moa Project. As in the PEEP program, participants are offered education and other supports to start a broiler chicken operation. Sust’ainable is collaborating with the Molokai slaughterhouse to get set up to process the birds.
If that’s not enough, Kamakani Farms is also expanding into tomato production. A 2800 square foot “high tunnel” greenhouse is under construction. An enclosed structure should minimize pest damage to the fruit and provide access to a larger locally grown tomato for Molokai consumers.
“The tomato operation integrates nicely with the chickens,” says Cameron. “I use IMO (Indigenous Microorganisms) to assist in composting the chicken manure, which will be added to the soil to fertilize the tomatoes.”
The whole operation, which includes native Koa trees planted to attract indigenous birds and pollinators, can be viewed from a substantial tower in the middle of the property.
“People think maybe we use the tower for hunting. Actually, we call it our ‘prayer tower,’” he said.
Cameron is also pastor of Heart of Aloha Church, since 2009—and he’s not joking about the prayer tower. It offers a beautiful view of the Ho’olehua, as long as you don’t get blown off.
“My parents called it Kamakani Farms because of the incessant wind. We kept the name, for obvious reasons,” says Cameron.
A video featuring Kamakani’s egg production can be viewed at kamakanifarms.com.